A footballer seeks to forge a tolerant South Asia and Middle East

Kashif Siddiqi has dedicated his career to building harmony. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 January 2020

A footballer seeks to forge a tolerant South Asia and Middle East

  • Kashif Siddiqi moved last year from England's Oxford United club to play for Real Kashmir
  • Siddiqi's ultimate dream is to set up the Cities for Peace program across the Middle East

CAIRO: In what could go down in history as one of the most unorthodox moves in sport, footballer Kashif Siddiqi last year moved from England’s Oxford United club to South Asia to play for Real Kashmir on a one-year loan.

But Siddiqi is no average sportsman. The 33-year-old has dedicated much of his career to using football as way to create peace and encourage dialogue across the world.

In 2013 he co-founded Football for Peace (FfP) with former Chile international Elias Figeroa. The organization runs programs worldwide that use the game to address social issues.

Siddiqi says his loan to Kashmir — territory disputed by India and Pakistan — is “proof” of his commitment to the wider importance of the game.

“Real Kashmir probably has the biggest profile in India as a club,” he said. “They’ve grown really fast. I think going to Kashmir makes a really big statement and brings real visibility to football diplomacy.”

Siddiqi’s ultimate dream — after playing for Real Kashmir — is to set up the Cities for Peace program across the Middle East.

“Football is loved by kids in the Middle East. We’d like to bring Arab children together from all over the place … and unite them in a love of the game. It’s a step toward transforming preconceptions of each other,” he said.

“By nominating Cities for Peace across the region, we could conduct cultural exchange programs. That makes for a really strong dialogue, and that’s how to bring about change.”

Siddiqi began his job as a diplomatic ambassador by even setting foot in divided Kashmir. Despite being partly of Indian origin, he has also represented Pakistan at international level.

Sandeep Chattoo, co-founder of Real Kashmir, told UK newspaper The Guardian that the decision to sign Siddiqi was taken for more than just football reasons.

Chattoo said: “Kashif is a unique player who’ll fit right in, and we hope his Football for Peace efforts will align with our mission and continue to bring hope and joy to the region.”

Siddiqi says his mixed family background has inspired his philanthropic approach to football. His father hailed from India, and his mother came to the UK as a refugee fleeing war-torn Uganda in the Idi Amin era.

“My mother’s background is the whole reason why I founded the FfP movement,” he said. “She has been the driving force for me both on and off the pitch.”

Siddiqi describes FfP as a “diplomatic sports movement that brings people together and creates understanding through the beautiful game.”

The organization conducts one-off football matches held around the world to raise awareness of football diplomacy and promote a message of equality and peace.

The body also runs Young Ambassador Training, a local community initiative that uses football to connect young people from different faiths, cultures and backgrounds, and get them to play together and better understand one another.

Siddiqi says his vision is that every country in the world uses football diplomacy to help bring about peace and more tolerant societies.

“Growing up as a footballer, I was color-blind. It didn’t matter where my fellow players were from — we were friends on the pitch and just passed the ball,” he said.

“That way, as players grow up, no matter what we do in our lives, we’re always connected. We want these children to be connected from a young age so they form those tolerant relationships.”


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

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World Cup winner Rose Lavelle eyes FA Cup glory with Manchester City

Updated 30 October 2020

World Cup winner Rose Lavelle eyes FA Cup glory with Manchester City

  • The American midfielder will face Everton at Wembley just over two months after moving to England
  • On Sunday, Lavelle and her team-mates take on Everton at Wembley in the delayed 2020 FA Cup final

DUBAI: For a second or two, the World Cup winner was left speechless.

“No way, wait really? Your name is my name?” she asks the star-struck little fan standing in front of her just weeks after playing a major role in the US Women’s National Team triumph at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.

Rose Lavelle had just met Rose Lavelle. 

The video of the Manchester City’s new American star meeting her mini-me namesake went viral, confirming her own popularity on the back of the wildly successful World Cup.

“That was so cute, I thought I was being pranked for a second,” Lavelle, preparing for the FA Cup final on Sunday, told Arab News. “It was so cool, and I think it’s so special to be able to give back to the sport that same way that it gave to me. I know how huge it was for me to have role models that I looked up to, that I tried to envision myself being in their shoes one day. So I think it’s so cool now that I’m able to hopefully serve that same inspiration and motivation for younger players to be in my shoes one day.”

(When Rose Lavelle met Rose Lavelle: YouTube video)

Lavelle is being modest, playing down her own astonishing rise over the last few years.

At last year’s World Cup, she scored her nation’s second goal in the final against the Netherlands and was named in the tournament’s best 11. She also claimed the Bronze Ball as the third best player in the tournament. Later she was ranked sixth in the The Best FIFA Football Awards 2019. In August this year, having been transferred from Washington Spirit to NWSL rivals OL Reign, she made the move to Manchester City.

Lavelle joined a team bursting with some of the game’s best players including England captain Steph Houghton, 2019 UEFA Women's Player of the Year Lucy Bronze, England stalwart Jill Scott, former Olympique Lyonnais left-back Alex Greenwood and fellow USWNT World Cup winner Sam Mewis.

“I’ve obviously played against a lot of these girls at international level, but I think coming here I have even more respect for them because I see how talented they are and how much they know the game,” Lavelle said. “It’s been awesome to come here and play with them, and not against them, and also to be able to learn from them every single day. I feel like I’m constantly learning and getting better every day.”

For obvious reasons, the move could not have come at a more complicated time, and Lavelle had to quarantine for two weeks on arriving in England. Still, the 25-year-old has taken the disruptions in her stride.

“It’s been pretty good being on the team and there was definitely a little bit of adjustment,” she said. “To be fair, I still feel like I’m kind of adjusting and learning. But it’s something that’s making me so much better. It’s great to be in this environment, I’m really grateful to have this opportunity especially with everything that’s going on, having this avenue to play every single day.”

Manchester City’s women’s team are now fifth in the FA Women’s Super League (WSL) standings, having won two, drawn two and lost one of their early season matches. They also beat Everton 3-1 in the FA Women’s League Cup, a match in which Lavelle scored a brilliantly kicked equalizer.  All have been played to the backdrop of empty stadiums.

“Obviously the fans make the atmosphere so fun and incredible, and I would love to experience playing in front of an English crowd,” she said. “I’ve never played in front of a crowd in England before. I’ve only ever trained in England, I’d never played a game. But obviously health and safety are the most important things, so it’s understandable. I think whenever sports allow fans again, something that we all know and take for granted, it’ll be a fun time.”

On Sunday, Lavelle and her team-mates take on Everton at Wembley in the delayed 2020 FA Cup final, the competition’s 50th, with Manchester City having beaten West Ham 3-0 in the 2019 edition. There will also be an opportunity to reach the 2021 FA Cup final later this season. 

“One of the reasons I wanted to come here was there were so many different opportunities to win different titles, so it’s so exciting to have this opportunity to play in a final, a final so early in the season,” Lavelle said. “And also, potentially to play in another FA Cup final this [season], that would be unprecedented.” 

A win on Sunday will come just 16 months after the finest moment of Lavelle’s career, a winning role in the USWNT’s triumph at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France.

“Winning the World Cup was such an incredible moment, we had put so much work the past three years during that cycle into it,” she said. “So when the whistle blew, oh my gosh, thank God we had a team that accomplished what we set out to do, it was such an amazing thing seeing how hard we worked and how much we pushed each other. It was that much more rewarding because we knew how much we put into that moment. So to see it come to fruition, I don’t even have words for it, it was incredible.”

Winning the World Cup was a big moment in Rose Lavelle's career, but she's too humble to take all the praise. (AFP)

It takes a lot to get Lavelle to talk about her wonderful goal in that final, a run, shimmy and left-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area to seal the 2-0 win on 69 minutes. But when she does, it is typically to shower praise on her colleagues with a forensic description of the team’s move that led to her big moment. 

“Honestly that goal was a testament to our whole team I think,” she said. “When you look at the play, so much had unfolded because of so many other players on the field. It started with Crystal (Dunn) winning a great tackle stopping their transmission, she passed it off to Sam [Mewis] in midfielder, and I was able to take up the space I needed. In the final couple of seconds leading up to that, Alex was holding up their center back the whole time, and I was waiting to slip to her but she was occupying them, so I was able to get a shot in because of that. More than anything it was testament to our team, the relationship we have on the field.”

The USWNT have now won the World Cup a record four times, producing some unforgettable final moments along the way.

Michelle Akers dramatically slicing through Norway’s stumbling defenders in 1991. Brandi Chastain’s iconic celebration in 1999 after scoring the winning penalty in the shootout win over China. Carli Lloyd’s devastating first-half hat-trick against Japan in the 5-2 win in 2015. And now, the image of Lavelle, fists pumping in pure elation after her goal had finally floored the Netherlands.

You’d never hear her say it, but she has now earned the right to be mentioned alongside USWNT heroes like Akers, Chastain, Lloyd, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan.

“I always say that I was obsessed with the US Women’s National Team growing up,” Lavelle said. “That was the team that I watched religiously, I was just the biggest fangirl. They were such an inspiration to me and I wanted to be in their shoes so bad that it inspired me to keep working and to keep playing.”

On the horizon will be the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and a chance of a fifth American title, and before that plenty of opportunities to win the trophies Lavbelle craves with Manchester City. In the immediate future, Manchester City face Liverpool in the League Cup three days after the FA Cup final, before a double header of WSL and League Cup matches against local rivals Manchester United later in November.

But for now, the FA Cup final at Wembley, and another winner’s medal, is all that matters.

“Obviously I’ve never played in an FA Cup final, but I think it will be something I’m going to remember forever,” Lavelle said.

The list of unforgettable Lavelle moments is growing by the day.